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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 00:01 GMT
Screening call for pregnant women
Injection
A screening test may save lives
Screening pregnant women for thyroid deficiency could avoid complications, research has found.

The study discovered that women who suffer from thyroid deficiency - a condition known as hypothyroidism - are more likely to lose their child during pregnancy.

The researchers argue that carrying out a test of thyroid function as a routine part of pre-natal care could help to avoid this problem.

A team from the Foundation for Blood Research in Scarborough, Maine, US, carried out research on more than 9,000 pregnant women who agreed to have thyroid function measurements taken as part of routine pre-natal care.

A total of 209 women had a raised level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood, indicating thyroid deficiency.

These women were significantly more likely to lose their child during pregnancy than women whose TSH levels were not raised.

Other complications

Previous studies have also indicated that women with hypothyroidism are more likely to suffer from complications such as low birth weight and high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Researcher Dr James Haddow told BBC News Online nobody fully understood why thyroid deficiency should lead to miscarriage.

He said: "Thyroid hormone plays a critical role in regulating cell metabolism.

"One possibility, therefore, is that the metabolism of placental cells is sufficiently compromised that the pregnancy cannot be sustained."

Women with this problem are treated with thyroid hormone (thyroxine).

This is in the form of a pill taken once a day.

It is safe and inexpensive, and it completely corrects the thyroid deficiency.

It is not yet known, however, how completely such treatment can protect against foetal death.

Mr Rupert Fawdry, of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Milton Keynes General Hospital, told BBC News Online there were many things thought to have an impact on pregnancy for which it would be useful to screen.

But he said resources were limited, and such an approach was just not feasible.

He said: "We are nowhere near the point where the taxpayer should be asked to pay for screening for thyroid deficiency.

"A campaign to encourage pregnant women not to smoke would have a far greater impact on reducing miscarriages than a thyroid test."

Mr Fawdry said that doctors had no real idea why the majority of miscarriages occurred.

The research is published in the Journal of Medical Screening.

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See also:

20 Oct 00 | Health
'Screen for baby infection'
14 Jun 00 | Health
Discovery over pregnancy danger
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